Launched in 2016, the Poetry Coalition is an alliance of twenty-eight independent poetry organizations from across the U.S. that is working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes to the lives of people from all ages and backgrounds.
Each March, Poetry Coalition members offer poetry readings, workshops, panels, social media projects, and publications on a shared theme of social importance. Past themes have included Poetry & Migration in 2017, Poetry & the Body in 2018, and Poetry & Democracy in 2019. A line of poetry is selected as a headline for the theme. In 2017, it was "Because We Come From Everything," a line by Juan Felipe Herrera. In 2018, it was "Where My Dreaming and My Loving Live," a line by Tracy K. Smith. And, in 2019, it was, "What is is, then, between us?" by Walt Whitman.
The Poetry Coalition is coordinated by the Academy of American Poets and supported by a grant to the Academy from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Ford Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation have provided past support. Find the Poetry Coalition on social media with the hashtag #PoetryCoalition.
The March 2019 theme was "What Is It, Then, Between Us?: Poetry & Democracy." Each year, any and all are welcome to also offer poetry programs on the theme. Use the hashtag #PoetryCoalition and @Poetsorg on Twitter and the Academy will share information about your programs as it is able.
The twenty-three founding members, who receive some funding to support March programming planning, and presentation, offer possible programming themes and headlines in summer. Staff at the Academy of American Poets compile these suggestions, which are then discussed on two conference calls on which the theme and headline are decided based on consensus. The theme is posted and shared publicly in December.
The Poetry Coalition traces its roots back to the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in April 2015. There, the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Foundation, and the University of Arizona Poetry Center invited leaders from national and regional poetry organizations to an informal lunch. At this gathering, leaders present expressed an interest in working more closely together and convening outside of AWP. The Academy of American Poets secured support for such a gathering from the Lannan Foundation, and then planned and organized a convening with assistance from the University of Arizona Poetry Center and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, which have worked closely with the Academy of American Poets on building this initiative from its inception.
The November 2015 convening, held at the Lannan Foundation's offices in Santa Fe, New Mexico, included representatives from national poetry organizations, national youth laureate and student poets programs, poetry libraries, poetry festivals, poetry centers, state and city poetry organizations from different regions in the U.S., and poetry programs that support poets from specific racial and ethnic backgrounds, and genders. While a few of the organizations publish poetry, publication is not a sole focus. All share that they offer public poetry programs and present poets at live events.
The meeting was kept to fewer than twenty-five organizations due to funding limitations. This size group also helped ensure active engagement, participation, and effective decision-making. At this meeting poetry organizations began discussing collective goals and values their organizations might share, and the possibility of offering programming on a joint, timely theme as a way to promote the value poets bring to our culture and demonstrate the important contribution poetry makes to the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.
In November 2016, Poets House in New York City generously hosted a convening with the same organizations at which it was decided to stay, for the time being, a smaller coalition. Founding members would remain a working group. Additional affiliate members would be added at some future point. The Academy of American Poets would continue serving as the lead coordinator, fundraiser, and fiscal agent for the effort.
A theme was selected at this meeting that member organizations would address in programs the following March, Poetry & Migration. After this meeting the Academy of American Poets issued a press release publicly announcing the launch of the Poetry Coalition.
The Academy of American Poets secured a grant in 2017 from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to support Poetry & Migration programs. It then secured a major grant from the Ford Foundation to fund annual convenings and provide support for programming efforts of the twenty-three founding member organizations in 2017 and 2018. It then secured funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2019 to sustain the project over the subsequent four years.
In November 2017, the founding members of the Poetry Coalition met for their third convening at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in Tucson, which also included a visit to Arizona State University in support of a major reading organized by Natalie Diaz, which featured Sandra Cisneros, Rita Dove, and Joy Harjo. At this convening, founding members determined the theme for March 2018 programs, Poetry & the Body.
In November 2018, founding members met at the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, in advance of the 50th anniversary of the shooting on the campus that took the lives of four student protestors in 1970.
In November 2019, founding members will meet in Miami, Florida, hosted by O, Miami.
Today, the Poetry Coalition is comprised of twenty-eight member organizations, including twenty-three founding members and five affiliate members, all of which share the Poetry Coalition's goals and values. The Academy of American Poets coordinates the work of the Poetry Coalition, serving as the online information hub, and administrative and fiscal lead, managing all fundraising, financial disbursements and reporting, communication, meeting planning, and press and promotion, among other tasks. The University of Arizona Poetry Center and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University assist with some of this work.
The Poetry Coalition's member organizations are working together to: 1) develop a healthy ecosystem of nonprofit poetry organizations by promoting regular communication, encouraging collaboration and resource sharing, encouraging an atmosphere of inclusivity, and creating space and time for poetry leaders to meet in person; 2) make poetry and its popularity more visible by collectively promoting the art form and collecting and sharing information that supports this case; 3) demonstrate the positive and transformative impact poetry can have on individual readers, communities, and in addressing important issues by sparking dialogues, promoting understanding, and encouraging empathy; 4) grow the audience of poetry readers and supporters (including financial) by engaging in creative projects and with a range of organizations that help us bring poetry to new readers and writers of all ages.
The Poetry Coalition's members organization's shared values, which help guide programmatic efforts, are: 1) alignment: acting on shared mission-driven organizational goals and projects while celebrating diversities among our organizations; 2) inclusivity: welcoming the many diversities of poets and poetry, acknowledging that poetry is both historical and a living, responsive, evolving form; 3) empathy: creating visibility for poetry's unique ability to foster compassion and human connection through language, as both an inspirational and educational tool; and 4) courageousness: to act boldly, transparently, and with courage on behalf of poets, poetry, and the value both bring to our culture.
Toward accomplishing our goals, the Poetry Coalition's current strategies, some of which will be addressed and achieved over time, are: 1) holding convenings both at and outside of AWP, 2) annual programming on a theme of social importance, 3) finding or funding studies on poetry in the U. S. that more accurately capture the increased demand and impact we witness, 4) pursuing models for fellowship programs for young poetry leaders or color and from under-represented communities; 5) working towards creating a safety net for small poetry organizations; 6) providing training for educators on how to teach poetry, and serving the next generation with youth programs.
The annual November convening, held in a different city each year, is a meeting during which the founding members of the Poetry Coalition discuss plans for annual March programming on shared themes and how to strengthen this effort; examine trends in the external environment that might inform March programs, such as the rise in poetry readership; support an effort taking place locally, such as a major reading or upcoming anniversary; and hear from special guests who have included Margot Atwell from Kickstarter and Sunil Iyengar from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The convening is planned by the Academy of American Poets and the organization hosting the meeting, with input from the University of Arizona Poetry Center and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, founding members, and the host organizations. The convening is underwritten by the Academy of American Poets through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. While we are grateful for interest in attending this convening from individuals and organizations, including from those who have offered to pay their own way, because it is a working meeting and for equity and fairness purposes, only founding Poetry Coalition members, whose participation is funded, attend.
At present, only the twenty-three founding members of the Poetry Coalition receive funding, which includes support to attend an annual convening and some funds to assist with March program planning and presentation, made possible by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to the Academy of American Poets. To date, and for the forseeable future, funding has been limited to supporting the work of the founding members. This group, which includes representation from a variety of poetry organizations across the U. S., including those that champion poets from specific racial and ethnic backgrounds and genders, is intentionally not larger than 25 to ensure engagement, active participation, and swift decision-making, and so that limited programming funding has some meaningful impact.
Affiliate members of the Poetry Coalition are listed on Poets.org and included in press releases issued to the media. They receive advance notice of the annual March programming theme, occasional communications throughout the year with information impacting the poetry field, and are invited to attend the Poetry Coalition's meet-up at the AWP conference. In years forward we will look to organize skill-building or informational calls or webinars for affiliate members as well.
We are not accepting new members at this time. We hope to add affiliate members in years forward and will make information available here about that, including an application process, when that might be possible.
If your question isn't answered here, please feel free to contact Jennifer Benka, executive director of the Academy of American Poets, at [email protected]